I was driving down the freeway the other day when a young man cut me off and made another car slam on the brakes so hard that the tires squealed. As the driver continued on his way, I noticed his van was covered in beautiful artwork advertising a local plumbing company. It made me think of a key part of branding that many companies don't consider: You reflect your brand in everything you do.
More to Branding Than Meets the Eye
When many people think of the word brand, they think of a logo or how their company is graphically represented, but a brand is much more than that. While there are many elements that make up a branding strategy, three key elements to consider in your company's branding are:
The first two bullet points are easy to understand. These are the parts of your brand that can be strategized. What do you promise to your target market? Who are you as a company? What benefits do you bring? What is your mission? How does your brand look? What does your website's appearance say about you? Is your look consistent? These are the branding elements that can be controlled from your end.
But that last bullet point's often overlooked. That last element of your brand is somewhat out of your control.
Okay, I know that was scary to hear. Let me say it again: Part of your brand is out of your control.
Public perception is quite possibly the most important element of your brand. It's not what you tell people, it's what they believe. You can say whatever you want about why your company is great, but if they see, hear and feel something different, your words will carry little weight.
Take BP, for example. For years, BP claimed to be a "green" oil and gas company. It advertised its efforts to improve the environment through alternative energy research. It was attempting to build its brand promise to be the one oil and gas company that cared about the environment. Then the Gulf oil spill happened. Overnight, BP's reputation went from eco-friendly to eco-destroyer. And people will remember for a long time to come.
At a recent class I taught, I showed the class a picture of Apple's logo and asked what they thought of when they saw it. Answers included innovation, high cost, high quality, "cool," and smart. Then I showed the Starbucks logo and got expensive, relaxing, consistent, good coffee and bad coffee. The exercise was a great demonstration of what branding is. These brands evoke very specific emotions -- both positive and negative. The logos leave a very strong impression with people of what that company is and what they stand for. Some of that impression has been put in place through marketing, but much of it is based strictly on public opinion.
As a local business owner, you may not have the budget that Apple does in its advertising and branding. But your company still makes an impression.
Last weekend, some friends and I decided that we should do breakfast together. One of them had not been to Snooze downtown but had heard how awesome the food is, so we headed over to experience the awesomeness. Judging by the one hour 20-minute wait, we were not the only ones who had heard their reputation.
Taking It One Step Further
Any time someone mentions your firm -- whether positive or negative -- they are influencing public perception and building your brand. Because of this, everything you say or do as a company is part of your brand development. It's more than what you say in your brochure. It's also what the public actually experiences. That means the behavior and attitude of each employee, as well as the quality of your work, play key roles.
If your employee has a bad day and is short with a client, you've just made an impression. According to some studies, when someone is unhappy with the service or quality they receive, they will tell, on average, 10 people. Public opinions, good or bad, can now spread like wildfire on the Internet. Talk about incentive to provide the best quality and customer service.
Branding isn't just a logo tacked onto a website. Branding is the impression that people have of your company. It's how you are perceived in the marketplace and what people say about you.
So back to my bad driver on the freeway last week. Here's my freebie branding tip of the day: If you're driving a vehicle that has your company's name all over it, drive politely.